Holland America Westerdam 3-18-11
We flew to FLL Thursday night on Southwest and arrived early. Stayed on the Hilton Marina on points. This is a cruise review so suffice it to stay there are better options for a pre-cruise stay. Was offered a shuttle while waiting for a cab, $6/person. We hopped on the shuttle and we were the first drop off at the pier at about 11:10.
The terminal opened at 11:00 so there was a bit of a line outside. Out bags were immediately taken and we were processed and after two queue stations were onboard about 11:50. Rooms were ready so we proceeded immediately to our view-impaired outside stateroom on the Upper Promenade deck, #6078. Yes, the view is impaired but for tall people as we are we can see over the front end of the lifeboat and see the sea. Pleasantly surprised to find the window is actually French-door sized rather than the 2 * 3' window we expected.
Our last few cruises have been on other lines and it was nice to see a decent sized bathroom including a tub. The sitting area is also nice and we are generally very pleased with the room, storage, and everything. Upon boarding we inquired and was told the mariner's welcome back lunch was being served in the deck 2 Vista dining room, so we proceeded there. They took our room# and asked if we would mind sitting with others. Of course not, and we were led to a table of 8 all the way aft. In 5 minutes of conversation we learned that the two couples already there were traveling together, this was the start of their second week on the Westerdam, and they were part of our cruise critic roll call. They gave us a brief summary of their first week and all seems well.
My DW ordered a salmon entrEe while I asked the waiter if I should order the burger or chicken; he recommended the chicken so chicken it is! The salmon entrEe was a hit and the envy of the table. The chicken was okay, but it was a leg and thigh, and I don't enjoy dark meat. For what it was, it was quite good, but I would not have ordered it and had not thought to ask (I guess assuming it would be a mixture?). Service was very good and quite prompt until the entrees were completed; at that time the wait staff was nowhere to be seen so after the 4th couple excused themselves we did also.
We went to the spa as I wanted to inquire about the thermal suite package. They kindly showed us around and told us it was $199 for the week for the two of us. As the thermal loungers are very good for some of our aches and pains, and we really enjoy the hydropool, we signed up. We were told we could use it right away but of course they would be giving tours until the muster drill.
We went back to our cabin to change into swimsuits (about the only thing we carried on in a small bag) and found that 3/4ths of our luggage had arrived. We quickly unpacked, made a couple of bon voyage calls to family, and headed up to the spa. Even with the traffic, the loungers were very relaxing as was the pool. We should have gotten a commission as it seemed some of the undecided signed up when they saw how much we were enjoying it! Rather than clean up before the muster drill, we stayed at the spa until 5 minutes before and headed straight to our lifeboat stations. It is very nice to not have to bring your lifejacket to the station.
After the drill, we stopped by the Ocean bar to take advantage of their happy hour and took our drinks to the Sea view bar area, Lido deck aft, for our planned cruise critic sail away get together. We met one very nice family traveling on Spring break and later found they are seated in the dining room two tables from us. We quickly changed and arrived for our first seating dinner at 5:55. We are seated at a table for 4 but tonight if we have tablemates they did not show. Table 24 is all the way aft on deck 3, with views out the rear and port side of the Westerdam. Our wait staff, Sugeng and Nengah introduced themselves. Our wine steward, Ricardo, is quite funny and we ordered a bottle for DW to enjoy the next several evenings.
Dinner was quite good. DW enjoyed Rock fish immensely (5 out of 5) while my Prime rib was a 3.5 out of 5. Actually a pretty nice cut but done a little more than the medium I ordered. Dessert was very good and my special request was seen to flawlessly. We went to the Ocean bar to enjoy the Neptunes and were able to dance quite a bit. The two couples from lunch were also there and we talked with them between dances. We stayed until the Neptunes took a break and decided to check out the shops. Ended up adding to our account by buying some shirts and hats! This may be the most we've ever spent on one day on a ship. By now we were tired and headed back to the cabin.
Set out the room service menu for breakfast, and was waken by the room service steward. Enjoyed the coffee, tea, and croissants while putting on the sunscreen and getting ready for our day at Half Moon Cay.
Holland America sure beats out Princess in the tendering process to their private island. Without any real effort we were on the first very large tender over and began walking down the beach. We had planned to snorkel but didn't realize just how far it is to walk all the way past the stables to the "Rocks" where snorkeling is reported to be decent. So we made it less than half way and just enjoyed a relaxing beach day. We went early just after 11:00 AM to the lunch barbeque and the Mahi-Mahi and minute steaks we had were quite good as were the accompaniments. About 12:15 without any real wait we headed back to the ship, and straight to the hydropool and thermal loungers. We were a bit surprised with how busy that area was, seeing that at least half the passengers were still on Half Moon Cay, but we were able to get chairs, enjoy the pool, and soon enough were on the heated loungers where I actually fell asleep for a delightful nap.
We went to the aft pool for a sail away party with the DJ. Grabbed some ice cream and enjoyed the sail away from a nice shaded table. Even with my 50 SPF sun block, liberally applied, my face was quite red so I needed to avoid any more sun before Aruba. Decided to go back to the spa, thinking the pool and loungers would now be very busy, and there was no one there! So another wonderful hour and a half of relaxation was greatly enjoyed before we headed to the cabin to get ready for dinner.
Dinner was again very good. After dinner we went to the showroom and enjoyed the traditional welcome aboard toast led by the Captain. The show tonight was a pianist/singer named Brett Cave, dressed rather like the British "Doctor Who," he performed many tunes from Billy Joel, Elton John, and the Beatles. He received a standing ovation at the close of his show and we thought it deserved.
Sunday was a sea day heading towards our next call of Aruba. We had a full breakfast delivered to our room this morning and arrived at the spa just before their 8:00 AM opening. They gave us our keys and told us we could get in to the thermal loungers. We stayed until 10:00 as and we were leaving many were just arriving. We attended the first 15 minutes of a cooking demonstration in the culinary arts center but where for the fourth time we were reminded how wonderful the Le Cirque dinner at the Pinnacle Grill was and to sign up today, we figured this demo was just a long advertisement and left. We found some loungers on the promenade deck and witnessed the ship change it's heading as we circled around the westernmost part of Haiti.
We went to the dining room for lunch and were seated at a window table for six all the way aft. Lunch was really, really good. The Calamari appetizer was delightful. We learned one of our tablemates were also snorkelers with full equipment and they were looking for snorkeling ideas for Aruba, so we made plans to meet them to use the bus to Malmok beach the next day.
That afternoon we attended the Royal Dutch Tea. The windmill ice carving was very nice and the whole "Tea" was very good. The only problem is we ate too much before our formal night meal! When we returned to our stateroom we found a confirmation from the Pinnacle Grill for dinner that evening. We hadn't made a reservation, so we called and they informed us our T/A had done so and our evening was prepaid. An unexpected bonus! We changed the reservation to the last night of the cruise as we are not big fans of the Master Chef's dinner.
Dinner was very good but as previously mentioned we were not really hungry. We danced a few to the Neptunes and went to the theater 10 minutes before show time and got seats in the 4th row center. Some of the back to back cruisers told us this show, "Rocking Road" was not to be missed. We lasted 40 minutes and left. The signers and dancers are talented but many of the songs taxed the singers range, and we did not enjoy the performance. We enjoyed the Neptunes for a few more songs and called it a night.
Monday started off as a day at sea as we do not arrive in Aruba until 1:00 PM. We were again the first to arrive in the Thermal suite and had a very relaxing morning. We enjoyed a lido lunch on the rear deck for sail-in to Aruba. The Westerdam was forced to dock at the container ship facility due to three other ships already berthed in port. This made for a rather long walk to town as we did not want to risk waiting for the free shuttle bus which may have caused us to miss our bus for our planned self-planned outing to Malmok beach.
We returned to the ship just in time to quickly get ready for dinner and while a little late, we did make it to our normal dining room seating. We enjoyed our dinner and decided not to go back out into town partly due to the less convenient docking situation and partly as we were quite tired. We did enjoy the Neptunes and dancing, and also enjoyed a big band set by the HalCats in the Vista lounge.
Tuesday we were up early and greatly enjoyed the picturesque sail in into Curacao. We docked right downtown at the "Small cruise ship dock." We walked over to the mega cruise ship dock where the Celebrity Constellation was docked to obtain our car rental for another self-guided tour. We returned to Willemstad by two-thirty and after dropping our shore gear back on the ship wondered the town. This is a really great port and we will need to get back at some point to see many sights we did not have a chance to see. We were back onboard by about 4:00 and enjoyed relaxing in the Thermal suite before getting ready for dinner.
Dinner was again very good, I remember my dinner of steak and shrimp was exceptionally fine tasting. Tonight was a comedy show by Rondell Sheridan. I haven't laughed so hard in a very long time and we enjoyed it very much. We also did some dancing to the Neptunes. We needed to stay up for the "Dutch chocolate extravaganza" at 10:30. We got up to the lido a little early to take photos - the artistry is amazing. The chef's paraded around the pool deck and took up their stations. We found the best single selection was apples covered with dark chocolate. Yummy.
Wednesday is the first of our two sea days back to Florida. Having stayed up very late (for us) this was not an early morning. We had only a very light breakfast, and relaxed on a few loungers on the lido deck reading until it was time to get ready "Smart Casual" for the Mariner's lunch. With 1300 Mariners on board they had two seatings, and we had the early 11:00 AM assigned to us. We ended up sitting one table from our normal dinner table, but our wait staff was working another part of the dining room. The Mariner's lunch was okay with less selection than the normal dining room lunch, but we were satisfied.
After the lunch we proceeded to the pool deck to listen to the Halcats. There was not a table or chair to be found except some at the Lido Bar. This ended up working quite well as the Halcats were followed by the ice carving demo and our Lido Bar stools gave us a great vantage point. Afterwards, it was time to enjoy the Thermal suite once again until it was time to get ready for the second formal night.
Our formal dinner did not disappoint. Our wait staff continues to impress us, and our surf and turf dinner (along with an extra Mahi-Mahi to sample) was excellent. The waiter took the lobster tail out of the shell, and this was served with drawn butter. We said our sad goodbyes to our excellent wait staff as Thursday evening we will be in the Pinnacle. After dinner we danced to the Neptunes, and also enjoyed the classical Adagio strings, skipping the Broadway show time tonight.
Thursday, our final full day, arrived all too quickly! We were up early and were the first in the Thermal suite where we stayed a few hours. We attended the crew farewell in the theater as we really enjoy showing our appreciation for the hard work the entire crew does to let us enjoy our cruise and feel so special. We watched the executive chef give a demo on making Austrian Apple Strudel, and truly enjoyed his presentation. The one disappointment was at the end when the party planner wouldn't let the audience sample the finished product (after the chef said we could).
All too soon it was time for a dining room lunch. Great choices and a fun table for our last lunch on board. Lunch ended up becoming very long after our waiter gave us the wrong dessert menu. No problem, just more time to share cruise stories and point a few new tablemates to cruise critic. After lunch it was back to the cabin to do most of our packing and fill out our guest survey. We enjoyed the afternoon after packing and took advantage of the Ocean Bar's happy hour.
This last evening of the cruise was the Master Chef's dinner. We heard that the true Master Chef, Rudi Sodamin, had boarded in Curacao. However, due to our agent's generosity, we had dinner reservations tonight in the Pinnacle Grill. I had the Porterhouse steak and it was extremely good, my DW ordered the lobster tail and was disappointed as it was no better nor any larger than the ones we had in the main dining room the night before. The very accommodating wait staff did bring her a second one. The special not quite baked Alaska served there is almost alone worth the admission price.
After dinner we attended the final show as both acts we so enjoyed earlier in the week, Brett Cave & Rondell Sheridan were back for an encore. Again, we really enjoyed their performances, especially Brett. Finally, we returned to the cabin to finish packing and put our bags out for pick up using the "Luggage direct" service so we would not see them again until deplaning in Philadelphia late the following night.
Friday we set the wake up call for 6:30, put on lots of sunscreen for our planned day in Fort Lauderdale, and enjoyed our only breakfast of the cruise in the dining room. The announcement was made about 7:40 that the ship was cleared and disembarkation could begin. We proceeded to the gangway at 8:15 and literally never stopped walking until reaching the custom's desk. 30 seconds later we were outside the terminal and called the car service our T/A had arranged for us. Without question this was the simplest and quickest disembarkation we have experienced in our ten cruises.
While not part of our cruise, we spent the day Friday with friends from a previous cruise and motored past the Westerdam twice on their jet boat. Seeing the Westerdam from this different perspective was very appreciated. We had a wonderful day with these dear friends before our late evening flight back to Philadelphia on our favorite airline.
A few closing thoughts and observations. This cruise coincided with "Spring break" and there was a large number of families on board, as well as a generally younger than typical HAL passenger mix. Most of the children were pretty much invisible during the cruise, and when they were seen they were typically superbly behaved. We especially enjoyed seeing the family of five, whose daughter's formal dress matched her moms and whose two sons tuxedos matched their father! Despite the younger overall passengers, there was a higher percentage of tuxedos in the main dining room on the formal evenings than on other recent HAL cruises. I found this to be an interesting occurrence.
Our recent experience on the Crown Princess (Jan 2011) I commented on the nearly eternal waits for elevators at times. The Westerdam has 1,000 fewer passengers but the same number of lifts. We never waited 15 seconds for an elevator this entire cruise. Without hesitation we give the Westerdam 5 stars and highly recommend the Westerdam for a wonderful cruise experience.